This week was a Halo week ~ a week of Highs and lows.
I almost knocked myself out first thing ~ I bent down in the little cloakroom to get some socks out of the sock tub ~ and as I stood up (as if to exit through the door) I walked smack into the door frame which is set to the beam. It was dark ~ I had no glasses on ~ I was a little wobbly on my feet ~ and I misjudged the manoeuver with gusto. The pain cracked diagonally across my face (as I wacked the frame from crouching to standing) it began above my right eyebrow, imprinting a huge red line and swelling crack across the side of my nose, ending in a bulbous bruised redness that even makeup found difficult to disguise. I stood with my pain running under cold water for a long while. You know when you accidentally catch your nose and it hurt hurt hurts so much that your eyes water. Well ~ I cried like a baby.
I tried to occupy myself pointlessly by cleaning the front room in anger ~ when I never wanted to clean the long-overdue sad front room in the first instance, partly as a distraction to the injury of my pride, and partly as a distraction to the pain, and partly as a distraction to the next task of the day which I was dreading and putting off, until I could put it off no longer.
The day before I had a wonderful first day back at the London Centre for Spirituality, where I am embarking upon the second year of my Ignatian Spirituality and The Art of Spiritual Direction Course. It was a brilliant day ~ The new tutors were very articulate, and the day and course outline appeared to be far more focused and inspiring than year one of the course turned out to be. Last year covered a lot of general material exploring our own and other spiritualities ~ but it was fairly superficial and dilute. This year we will be intimately examining and exploring the ancient Ignatian text in a much more concentrated and experiencial way in the mornings, beginning our day in one large group 14 of us with 4 tutors ~ and then further dissecting and exploring and unravelling the text within our smaller groups. Then in the afternoon sessions we will be in our tutor groups of 5, where we will practice, explore and develop our directee/director skills beginning with ten minute sessions, and working throughout the year up to 1 hour sessions, experiencing, evaluating and sharing our findings as both directees and directors all within the context of Ignatians teachings and our lived experiences. Wow.
I am absolutely delighted that in both groups I have been so very blessed. Straight away first thing on the first morning I had already chosen in my heart the tutor that I truly wanted to spend this year with. She was the one and only Catholic tutor ~ but it was rather her manner and bearing that I absolutely warmed to. This tutor had connections to the Jesuits, and has run courses for many years at Loyola Hall – (the Jesuit retreat centre in Liverpool which has just closed.) She also works running retreats, quiet days and provides Spiritual Direction with the sisters at the Wisdom Centre. She is articulate ~ full of clarity ~ stimulating ~ peace imbued, but with a great gentle strength arousing and holding everyone’s attention. And guess what ~ I got her ~ Hooray ~ She is to be my tutor for the whole year ahead, chosen for me above the 3 other tutors, all set in advance. ~ Hooray ~ God so blesses me.
We are to be in two different groups throughout the day ~ The small morning group I wanted to be dynamic and alive and energised by the more experienced people (the ones who are already in a professional capacity working in their roles within their pastoral ministries. These people were in my tutor group last year, and I desperately didn’t want them in my tutor group this year as they were over efficient, competitive, too dynamic and ~ intimidating would be the wrong word ~ but there wasn’t much room for failure within the group . They all had so much to say ~ and as a result I could gather vast amounts of experience from them, but their ego’s were all BIG and humility was not their strength. However realising how much I learnt from their insight, I really wanted them to be the characters who could rip open the text with me this year, and throw around and explore and dissect the different meanings behind the text ~ and so it was that just by pure providence I was blessed with them this year in the morning ‘Text Sessions’.
In the afternoons I wanted a far more nurturing group, a nurturing nest full of the wisdom of age, and the blessings of a difficult life lived. With the lessons and wisdom learnt from those hardships, being offered in this listening ministry, and the wise responses shared in the context of the far more intimate Spiritual Direction sessions. I wanted warmth, authenticity, compassion, empathy, thoughtfulness, sorrow, happiness, openness, and a generous spiritual pastoral response from the other people in my group. I want us to share and grow and fail and conquer and lift ourselves and each other up, and use everything we are learning well for the greater good of each other and God. This little group of 5 + the tutor are going to become a little family of sorts for the year ahead, with very real bread torn and shared ~ May God be at our table. I truly could not have chosen a more blessed and perfect group of people to be with for the year ahead ~ and I am so looking forward to the journey. Each one of them I Love, and have personally already bonded with last year. ~ I think this year is going to be very very special.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week I accompanied my best friend to her 2 bone scans. She has terminal breast cancer which has spread to her marrow. They have for now stopped all her treatment and I think that she is going to have her pic-line taken out and refuse any more chemotherapy. She just wants her final time alive to be feeling as well as she can, which is impossible whilst being treated with the Chemo. Last week she asked if I would cut her hair with my clippers. ~ Of course I would.
I worried about it all week. ~ I prayed ~ I asked my friends on my course to pray for us. My best friend throughout her entire health battle has kept a most dignified stance. We have shared so many tears ~ laughter ~ Love ~ as she has endured so many procedures. I was even present and praying Hail Mary’s when she was having her pic-line fitted. On the 3rd attempt (her veins are fast disappearing) and much blood later, only then did the pic-line go in. I can come over quite faint around blood ~ but there was absolutely no way I was going to leave her alone during the horrible procedure. We squeezed hands together and both looked like death, but we did it. Each week there are 3 sets of bloods taken, I distract myself whilst she endures ~ then there’s a whole day of line-care, pre-meds, flushing, chemo, dressings, injections, consultants etc and Not Once has she been in my presence without her wig, or a turban, or a headscarf on.
I have seen other women come and go with tuft of hair all over the place. I am expert at identifying wigs a mile off ~ baldness I have no problem with . . . . But when it came to my darling best friend I was scared. I was scared for her dignity ~ for her courage ~ the finally having to remove her headdress in front of me, in order for me to cut her hair. I was scared of what would be revealed underneath ~ I was scared of my reaction to what I would witness ~ and how I would hide my reaction. I was scared of her embarrassment. I was scared of her heart hurting so deeply in utter despair at having got to a stage which she couldn’t deny or hide any longer. I was scared of touching the dead hair in clumps that would come away so easily at the work of my fingertips. And I was scared of that hair falling upon the floor like life cut away before it had to be.
We had coffee first and shared our usual banter. Her firstborns 17th birthday was poignantly today too. My humour came in to play and I asked her before I came round to scan some magazines of the style that she would like me to create. We giggled at the ridiculousness of it all. I offered to scribe a hidden birthday message to her daughter on the back of her head in tram lines. :O) We giggled more. And then after what felt like the longest most superficial coffee we had ever had, I braved it. “ok shall we get this hair cut.” In what seemed like precise slow motion we went into the kitchen and pulled up a chair, and got the clippers ready in precise order . . . . only then did she remove the beautiful navy turban from her most beautiful head.
All the dark hair was gone ~ the chemo had made all the dark hair fall out ~ and all that was left were silver-grey strands of thinning wispy greyness. Some strands were thicker, some were longer than others. I told her she was beautiful, and that her new hair reminded me of Judi Dench. I told her that I love grey hair and that I hoped the dark hair never grows back. I held the clippers in nervousness as I turned the motor on and then I slowly carefully and loving worked all over her head. I asked her if it were pulling and she said no it is gentle, just like having a scalp massage. I stroked my fingers through her softest hair as I worked. I was surprised at how soft it was. It was a 1/4″ all over by the time I had finished, and I used a 1/8″ to go around the ears and hairline. We talked about her deciding not to have anymore treatment for the time being, as we cleaned up together, and as we washed the clippers and the floor ~ I immediately understood this to mean forever. We laughed at the ridiculousness of trying to fit everything back in the little box like a magician. I washed my hands, and I told her to go and have a shower. We hugged and held each other and were still smiling and jesting upon my leave, she saw me to the door with no head covering on. It was a beautiful, poignant, precious, and intimately blessed time that I shared with my beautiful brave friend. ~ Why was I so scared?
We hugged goodbye and then I left and got in my car.
And as soon as I drove around the corner the dam broke. I collapsed into floods of tears at the pure injustice of it all.
Life is so cruel.
I cried all the way to Colchester ~ I did what I had to do ~ and then I cried all the way home again. And then randomly I kept on crying. The thought that that might be her last ever hair cut ~ to think that the best friend that I Love and that has kept me sane for the past so many years, soon will no longer be here to keep me sane. To think of her children and her husband and their pain imminent. To think of her wisdom no more daily blessing me anew ~ and everything that she is to me will soon be elsewhere ~ and to think of all the Love we share ~ and to think of all the physical warmth, and all the maternal hugs, and all the closest warmest affection will soon become only a spiritual reality. It is that greatest loss that each day little by little is finding itself ever Greater.
Please pray for us all ~ that God continues to bless us with the Grace of pure Love ~ so that as life slips ever further away, Heaven slips ever closer to earth.
Thank you for your prayer.